Sunday, October 31, 2010

London Screenwriters' Festival #3


Wake. Pack. Check out. And carry heavy bags to the college. Hide heavy bags under a table, then discuss with Event staff person about storing them, and she says she'll move them to the cloakroom.

Today I am travelling light, just the one fairly light bag.

Eat a hearty breakfast when they finally let us in - 15mins ahead of when they should. I didn't quite such a hearty breakfast as things were not ready. Oh well.

None of the morning sessions impressed me, so I just hung out in the refectory and drank a lot of coffee. And then some people started returning from the sessions. It seems a shame to say this but two sessions of that morning had people walking out because they weren't very good. Hopefully the persons concerned will put this on their feedback form.

Anyway I went to the "Actors" session with casting directors and they'd managed to find an actor (Will Kemp). I was interested to learn what actors are trained to do with scripts.

The first thing we were asked to do was twin up with someone sitting beside us and each to give the other some line - any line - and then that person had to say it. This was to give the idea of what it's like to be given a line to say by someone else.

I love this sort of thing. I was sitting with William Gallagher again. I gave him "There's no way I'm doing that" and he gave me "Family's just people you can't be yourself with". We went round the class and I got the point (I think): Given that line to say I was figuring out who would say it and how it should be said. (I've done a fair amount of acting and improvisational stuff.)

Interesting stuff: In the US actor's agents won't even read a script unless the project is already financed. That's it. (Though of course if you have a personal contact with a major actor that's a different matter.)

But in the UK they will.

So what does an actor look for? A part with meaning, with emotion, with a journey, subtextual rather than expository. In fact precisely the things that we're supposed to put in anyway.

There was much discussion of the casting directors role, auditions, screen tests and chemistry tests (not heard that one before).

And what do they do if the dialogue is rubbish? The best they can.

I used my negative approach to choosing the first afternoon session, namely what don't I want to see? And as a result went to see the main man himself Chris Jones talking about "Winning Your First Oscar".

Here's the thing: Anyone can make an Oscar-winning short. It's the one Oscar category that's completely open, and you, as a writer, can get up on that stage and get your little gold man.

That's what he set out to do (for very specific reasons) and he was one place away from an Oscar nomination with his short film "Gone Fishing".

You have to be deadly serious about it - but if you are you can get the finance you need just by asking, and then asking again, and then asking again.

Not that he was suggesting it was easy. It takes real hard work, there are certain things you have to do and festivals you have to win in order to get into the long list. But it can be done. You can win an Oscar.

Chris has an online seminar on his site, and he did a detailed blog about the whole process when he did it at

My final session was about writing Crime Drama. A panel discussion chaired by Barbara Machin who created Waking the Dead. There isn't really a whole lot to say about this, beyond the fact that both Cops and Docs are good because they have drama built-in and can be used to tell human stories. And that's why they are so popular and successful.

But they still have to be character-driven.

Following this was the only informal scriptchat that I attended, with the panellists. This went on for another 45 minutes or so and allowed us to get close to and get to know these big players in the business.

The event wrap part was going on at this point but contacts are more important than drinkies.

After this I chatted with a few peeps, said long goodbyes and headed back to my parents where I stay during the week while working in that Fancy London.

This event was as good as the Cheltenham events, and in one very specific way, better. At Cheltenham the guest speakers had been isolated from us writing hoi-polloi (Ancient Greek for "The Many"). But here I had already had deep conversations with a couple of the speakers (with no clue as to who they were), just sitting in the Refectory - because they mucked in with the rest of us and were enjoying the event themselves.

I can only apologise to Julie Gribble for completely failing to find time to talk to her.

Roll on next year.

What's on the turntable? "The Cloud-Making machine, Part 1" by Laurent Garnier from "The Cloud-Making machine"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

London Screenwriters' Festival #2

I was out like a light last night. Seven hours later I was awake.

Something I hadn't done the previous evening was prepare my attack on the speed-pitching. Sorting out which pitches I was going to deliver to which of my victims. Stapling the one-sheets to my writing CVs and business cards. (Yes, I am that sad/prepared, I brought a stapler and sellotape, though I have no idea what I might use sellotape for.)

The hotel booking didn't include breakfast and they are not cheap at this hotel, but the refectory was open at the college. I checked Google Maps for a quicker route through Regent's Park and set off. It was quicker.

There was breakfast. A nice big cooked breakfast - I like nice big cooked breakfasts and I can get away with it because I do a lot of walking. (In fact I am losing weight.) Chatting to other delegates, ones I knew and ones who I came to know.

I was terrible, I kept complaining how I hadn't got any of the sort of people I wanted for the speed-pitching. Everybody who I told (and who didn't I tell?) was sympathetic. Poor me.

Anyway one of my speed-pitchees (the agent) was in a session in the morning so I, calculatedly, went to that session in order to research him further. So Katy Williams and Gary Wild talking about being agents and what agent do, and what they don't do.

the most important thing when trying to get an agent: Try not to sound crazy. Just be professional. Make sure the little things are right - in other words, don't give anyone an excuse to reject you. And what they want in a client is someone who is personally active in promoting his/her own career. An agent doesn't do it all.

This handy little fact helped enormously when I saw Gary in the speed-pitch - because I was able to tell him all the stuff I did to push myself and try to get gigs, as well as producing my own material.

Katy broke an agent's job down into four areas: Sales; Lawyer; Script editor; and Counsellor.

The proportions change depending on the client.

They said a lot more besides but that's some of the important stuff.

Then I went to see Phil Parker. I'd gone to Phil's sessions at the previous Cheltenham festival and found them to be fairly important, talking as he was about writers creating entire universes in which to tell their stories - and having multiple creatives building multiple stories, images, games or whatever in those universes - while the original creator still maintains control.

His thrust this year was rather different: Film and TV are buggered (he didn't use that word). Though independents will still continue to be able to self-finance and make stuff.

Meanwhile entire web series (once the new hope) have sunk without trace and millions have been lost - but that's because the stories have been rubbish - really stunk. There was a vampire series (costing $5m to make) that was sub-Buffy without achieving even Eclipse quality (and whatever you may like or dislike about Eclipse it's made money).

But mobile has exploded.

On an income-per-minute basis the 90 second "Angry Kid" animations by Aardman have made more money than Wallace and Gromit. New delivery platforms have different narrative requirements but it's Phil's view that as writers we can cash in.

If we can write a structured character-driven 90 seconds (max of three minutes) story we can be miles ahead.

Whether you agree or disagree with Phil you can't ignore him. He's always thinking about the future and never about the status quo.

Curiously enough it is part of our world domination plan to release short bits of material as we develop our steampunk projects. Taking Phil's comments into consideration we just need to make them structured.

And then I had lunch. People were nice and wished me luck and broken legs.

And then I did the speedpitching. Considering I've never done it before I think it went reasonably well.

We got 5 minutes for each pitch with 40 seconds to change seats, which was plenty. And got 3 people to pitch to, we knew in advance who we were getting so could research them and (hopefully) pitch the right thing.

I made sure I took control, in a nice way, by shaking hands, introducing myself and asking how they were holding up :-) I'm so naughty.

Thing is, at the MetFilm School evenings Justin Trefgarne said that good pitches turn into conversations. So my view was: make it a conversation first and you're already winning.

First I had an agent - and I watched as his eyes glaze over when I said "science fiction" (apparently they'd also glazed over when someone said "period piece").

So I finished that pitch off pretty quick and he asked what else I'd done. Knowing that he's interested in someone who is pro-active in advancing their career, I pushed all those aspects of what I do and ended with my UK private eye series (something you don't get much). At which point he brightened up. So I'll be contacting him later.

Then I got a European film producer and pitched my (atypical for me) script "Une Nuit a Paris", to which he said "it seems like TV" so I admitted that I prefer writing TV. I presented him with my one-sheet leave-behind (with CV and card stapled on). Which he skimmed and went "how's it different from The Hangover?" so I said and he became interested.

Then I got the US film producer and pitched the same film (she noticed I'd taken control and was a bit miffed, so I let her have it back) and she said "So, how's it different from The Hangover?" So I looked surprised and slightly put-out. "I'm British" I said. She laughed "That's good, you keep that!" "I've got a one-sheet", I said. "I can accept that." So she got the sheet, CV and card as well. We'd finished early so I asked her what she was working on :-)

And that was that.

I hadn't heavily rehearsed my pitches, just reminded myself of the key points, because I knew it wouldn't go according to any plan I had in my head, I just told them enough so they got the idea.
In the end they're just people.

The final session of the day for me was the one on writing for kids. Well I already have a script and it was a semi-finalist in the CBBC/Writersroom competition last year. But it was interesting listening to everything that was said by the four panellists.

I didn't make any notes during this, partly because I was sitting on the floor for a lot of it (no room) and partly because by this time my head had turned to mush. But it turns out that a number of countries (like Canada and some in the Far East, and even the Middle East) are desperate for British writers. And that the kids market is very open, fewer writers seem to think this is a lucrative area - but it is. Very. Kids shows get repeated endlessly - and the writer gets paid every time.

I got some food in the bar, had a long chat with William Gallagher, (name check).

I met up with many many other people today and we did lots of exchanging of cards :-)

Last day tomorrow and I need to meet several people specifically.

What's on the turntable? Elton John on the TV

Friday, October 29, 2010

London Screenwriters' Festival #1

I am very tired. End of Day #1 at the LSF. I'm going to try and crack through this fairly quickly because I need my sleepy-byes, but once I start writing I tend to just keep going.

Wednesday evening I prepared one-sheets for Monsters and Une Nuit in Paris, because these were most likely to be the things I pitch - oh and my writing CV. It had to be Wednesday because Thursday daytime was the only opportunity to do any printing.

Thursday I got the stuff printed and headed back to my place of residence. Late again because the day job is getting to need "working late" because a deadline is looming.

I packed my gear, as I'm staying in a hotel near the event. Packed all my stuff and realised I had rather a lot to carry - only two bags but really heavy. Normally I book into hotels the evening before an event but London is far too expensive for that.

Then horror hits. I'm entering the Shine Pictures competition which has a deadline on Friday so I'm uploading my entry, and the form refuses to accept that my PDFs are actually PDFs. I get very annoyed. I waste two hours creating PDFs in different ways trying to force the site to recognise my files. Eventually it dawns on me: I change to Internet Explorer and it works. (I am professionally disgusted - it takes work to make a site fail like that.)

Dawn's Friday morning. I'm up at the usual time, well slightly earlier really. Finish packing, dress, breakfast, lift to station, train to Farringdon, Circle Line to Baker Street. And I'm there.

I can't go to the hotel as I can't check-in yet, so I have to lug my bags around.

The event is at Regent's College which is located in Regents Park. And it's very nice in very pleasant surroundings. I encounter a co-attendee of the MetFilm School course, and rescue her from a garrulous member of the College. She is grateful.

So we arrive together. I get registered (Hina registered the previous evening), prove I am me (who else would I be). Make our way to the Refectory and grab some food while the MetFilm Yobs collect around us. And Jez Freedman. I tell everyone who'll listen that Jez is excellent as a script reader and doesn't charge enough. (I always say this, because it's true.) Jez points out that he deliberately keeps his prices low because he wants to offer a service that he didn't have when he was starting out.

Jez is one of the good guys.

It heads towards 9am and the MetFilm Yobs move as an amorphous blob to the introductory session in a large hall and fill up a row.

This is a very well-appointed college, the seats in the main hall are extremely comfortable. It has it's own cinema. Various food shops around the refectory, two bars, a very nice restaurant as well as the various classrooms.

The Introduction has David Chamberlain and Chris Jones doing a double-act. Chris takes a photo of the audience from the stage. There are announcements.

Then we get a long interview with Tim Bevan one of the founders of Working Title. He explained the genesis and working philosophy of the company - so unlike the horrors of Hollywood.

Generally speaking the original author of a script stays with it throughout its development, though other writers may be brought in for their views, a script is not put into production (usually) until it's ready. They want good stories with great characters and emotion.

His description just made me think of Pixar, which operates on a similar philosophy. And both companies produce successful films more often than not.

There was lots more but time is getting on...

The next for me was a chat with Ben Stephenson (Head of BBC commissioning) and Gub Neal who had been commissioner for ITV (during its 90s heyday) and Channel 4, but now runs the Artists Studio.

They said a lot. Too much to go into now. But I suppose the highlights were Ben's response to a question about trying to follow trends: "No, trends are rubbish." And Gub's comment about how successful writers are usually disinterested in what the audience want - they write what they want.

Does foreign money affect the writing? Gub: Yes.

How much UK output is bought by the US? Ben: None. (The only slight exception now being the US-made Torchwood.)

Then I went off to get checked-in at the hotel and missed the beginning of the afternoon sessions. So sat around and chatted to people.

I went to see what Paul Ashton of the BBC's Writersroom had to say for himself - he talked about the imponderable issue of the Writer's Voice. It's very important and people know when a writer's "got it", but nobody knows what it is. It wasn't terribly enlightening and I'm not sure it's a good choice of subject for the many new writers who could disappear up their own confusions trying to think about it.

He also said that 85% of scripts sent to the Writersroom failed the 10 page test and were sent back without comment.

I was seriously beginning to flag by this time. I tried to go to the networking session but it was packed out. I ended up in the cinema watching shorts for a bit. then went to the bar for the 8pm SF writers get together.

The bar was packed.

I gave up. And came back to the hotel.

And now I'm going to sleep. Good night.

What's on the turntable? Something modern and cool on BBC Radio 3

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Adrian Mead's Edinburgh Adventure

I haven't written a word on this because I made no notes. However David Bishop made copious notes and has started to post them here:

What's on the turntable? Nuffink

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Well, there it is.

Two weeks ago someone who taught me a lot about writing passed away, he'd had a good innings and, in his own way, he was a great man.

This week a cousin of mine died at the age of 37 - for no apparent reason. We weren't particularly close but it's bad to go so young and he was married with kids.

And today I learned that someone with whom I had fought goblins and demons* has also gone though I hadn't seen him in many years.

So that's three.

I don't happen to believe that death is the end of things so I don't mourn the dead. But my heart breaks for those left behind because it hurts so much.

When my sister died of pancreatic cancer (one of the incurables that kills fast and is excruciatingly painful) a few years ago I had the opportunity to say goodbye but could not be at her funeral. So instead I wrote a poem which was read out:

A Gap in Life
Before you were gone
We remember how you filled
Your space and ours,
With a zest that blazed
And a love that burned
With gentle fire.

At first we could not accept
The gap that you once filled.
It seemed you remained
And we were shocked each time
We came across that gap in life
Where we expected you to be
And you were not.

There may come a time
That the hole that was you
Will slowly fill
And the rest of the world
Will seep into the void
That you left
When you went away.

And the pain of the memory
Of that gap you left,
Will only be a memory.

But now, there is a gap in life
That once you filled.
And until the world seeps in
We will remember how
You brightly filled
Your gap in life, and ours.

So there we go.

Enjoy life because otherwise there is no point.

*With rubber swords.

What's on the turntable? "Key to the Highway" by Derek & The Dominoes from "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs"

Monday, October 18, 2010

That's interesting

You may have gathered from my recent posts that I've been thinking about Story a lot. This may or may not be a good thing, but I usually do it while walking so I'm not wasting valuable writing time.

I've been trying to get back to basics, down to the quantum level you might say (though I think that's (a) pretentious and (b) probably inaccurate). Anyway I thought I'd run a bit of it by you so you can say "that's stating the bloody obvious, mate".

Whenever I pretend to know something about writing I claim that Rule #1 is "don't bore the audience". This is not original though I don't know who said it first. Note that I'm using audience in the sense of "one or more individuals that perceive the work".

Why create something? Well unless it's a form of self-gratification, we create things so other people can look at them. But there's no point in them looking if there is nothing of interest.

So what we create has to be interesting. There, I told you it was obvious.

But that leads us to another meatier question: What makes something interesting?

Now I'm sure armchair philosophers could spend hours discussing this, but the only reason I even ask these questions is to get a practical and useful answer. Philosophising without a point is, well, pointless.

The trouble is that "What makes something interesting?" is the sort of subjective question that gets you nowhere. As is often the case it's better to ask the reverse: What makes something boring?

This is much easier and we can get a useful answer: lack of change.

This is easy to imagine in music: just keep repeating the same thing without any variation, it's boring. (How soon it becomes boring depends on personal taste, but it will get boring eventually.)

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider how this may (or may not) apply to writing.

What's on the turntable? "Definition of a Dog" by the Esbjörn Svensson Trio from "E.s.t. Live in Hamburg", 18 minutes of Jazz gorgeousness

Friday, October 15, 2010

A question of stakes

Not talking about fencing today though we may discuss Tae-Kwon Do. (I'm feeling in a frivolously twisted mood.)

The other day I was thinking about stakes - you know, why it's important the protagonist succeeds in their goal. There are things that have to be true about the stakes - we have to believe in them. That's the most important thing, believe that they really are important. Otherwise there's no point.

And then I thought about that utterly frivolous* film "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" - which I love, can't deny it, it's on my list of films that I will watch again, and again, and again (etc).

So what about the stakes? The future of the world. Doesn't get much bigger. And yes it's a silly film, but within its own framework the stakes make perfect sense. Bill and Ted must pass their History presentation because without the music of Wyld Stallyns the world is doomed.

What about one of my other fave films? The Fugitive. Stakes? Protagonist accused of a crime he didn't commit - but it's all to do with a pharmaceutical company faking results from their drug trials, so the result would have a huge impact on society. (On a serious note let me draw your attention to this: .)

Of course the stakes aren't always global but if there are any bad consequences to the protagonist's failure make them as big as you can.

In other news

The Daughter is firmly ensconced at University and loving it. She says the lectures are good too. She's a Jujitus black belt but had also had some fun with TKD in the past, but the teacher wasn't very good. She's joined a TKD dojo at University and finds the teacher is part of the England squad and very good. Wouldn't surprise me if she's wondering whether she can qualify for 2012... she's not competitive, oh no, not at all.

The Boy has started his GCSE work at school, he's taken Music as an option and is getting the kind of teaching I wish I'd had: How to play Blues - you could just melt into that sax playing.

* Two frivoli in one blog. Lucky you.

What's on the turntable? "Morph the Cat" by Steely Dan (Donald Fagen) from Morph the Cat

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Writer's Life

I could be writing about the Adrian Mead-fest I attended in Edinburgh yesterday - but I won;t because I just read Roger Ellory's latest blog - and I think you should too

What's on the turntable? Nada.